Tag Archives: stories

What if women ruled the news, or at least half of it?

Andrea Stone, Cami McCormick, Nancy Youssef, Anu Bhagwati, me

It takes a bit to wind down from the euphoria that buoyed me since I attended last weekend’s Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS) in Asheville, N.C.

It’s a place where the content was deliberately offered in a context of all women journalists all about advancing themselves, each other and the notion that the profession should leap into equity with fervor. The message is that we can all learn new things, and that talented, smart women journalists can change the world. Or at the very least, a few media outlets, and a hell of a lot of minds.

I mean, enough already of the manly world of journalism. It is 2011.

So it is why once a year it is necessary to spend a few days with other women journalists, writers, innovators, academics and authors who understand what we all face without even saying a word. Even though we say lots of them.

From concrete technolgoical advice to the decades-enduring professional alliances and newfound friendships, I gathered what I needed to recharge, reinvigorate and come back to my work as an assistant professor at the Medill School at Northwestern University revved up.

Here are only a few things I learned:

1. Nancy Youssef, McClatchy’s chief Pentagon correspondence, described her job of storytelling in a war zone as ‘being in a very dark room with a very small flashlight.” She added about her coverage in Iraq and Afghansitan, “The story isn’t about me. At the end of the day, I could leave.”

2. Robin Phillips, web managing editor at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism: “Twitter can figure out the Venn diagram of me.”

3. Megan Cottrell, journalist for the Chicago Reporter: “Information won’t always change people’s minds but if you tell stories that have empathy, you can change the way people think.”

4. Lisen Stromberg, journalist and brand specialist: “Branding is being consistent, being clear to everyone. Communicate your brand across platforms, all moving toward an end game.”

Back in my Medill office, all jazzed to tell my students about Storify, the latest Google tools and how to get internship possibilities with hyperlocal startups, I was interested to read about the Who Needs Newspapers? site. It’s an ambitious and uplifting project that documents the ephipanies and other insights from 50 editors at 50 small to medium sized newspapers in all 50 states. I read the comments voraciously.

And it hit me like a ton of urinal cakes.

Of all 50 editors, four were women– all white. Three men were non-white. One Asian, one Native American and one Hispanic. This is pretty dreadful representation. Despite Jill Abramson’s recent declaration that as a woman she brings no different senisbility to her duties as executive editor of the New York Times– the first ever woman in that post in the paper’s history– I disagree vehemently.

Of course a journalist is a journalist. But we ask different questions. We bring different experiences to our writing. The male and female brains are different for goodness sake.

For confirmation, I checked the April 2011 newsroom census (the latest available) from the American Society of News Editors . Once again it demonstrated the woeful lack of gender and racial diversity in newsrooms in this country. The number of minorities in newsrooms declined only slightly to less than 13 percent of all employes in the 847 news outlets that responded to the survey. In all, more than half, or 441 newspapers had no minorities on staff.

Women in newsrooms make up 36.92 percent of full-time employees. Not much difference over the last decade; it’s actually a return to the same percentages as existed in 1999, when Cher’s “Believe” was the No. 1 hit song and the Backstreet Boys were still boys.

No wonder I love the annual JAWS camp so much.

Which brings me to a game changer I have jumped into with both feet. The OpEd Project, founded in 2008 by Katie Orenstein, has a mission to tip the balance of thought leadership in this country by engaging smart women and men around the country into claiming their expertise and doing something about it, instead of sitting back and letting the same old chorus of mostly male, mostly white voices drown the rest of us out.

I have been involved as a mentor/editor for a few months with OpEd and am helping to assist this weekend in Chicago at Medill’s Chicago newsroom, in a core seminar where more than 30 community leaders, authors, journalists, doctors, nonprofit executive directors, judges, advocates and academics will convene. All have the goal of changing the world with their thought leadership.

Because as The OpEdProject research shows, the byline count and the headcount on talk shows is abysmally weighted against a diversity of voice. In its June-July 2011 byline survey, 18.49 percent of opinion pieces were written by women in the New York Times. That means 81.51 percent were written by men. That same month, 35.67 percent of opinion pieces pubslihed on Slate.com were by women. More than 64 percent were written by men.

Even pundits on tv shows are predominantly men, as pointed out oh so cleverly on Jezebel a few weeks ago.

The OpEdProject is actively addressing this brand of disparity. In Chicago a June core seminar proved so powerful and inspiring, that 20 opinion pieces (including several from me on Huffington Post and in the Chicago Tribune) were published in the past three months by 26 participants.

We are all hoping for more of the same from this weekend’s group. More inspiration, more ways to engage the world with new ideas from new voices.

I wrote in my 2008 book, Everyman News, that diversity of thought shifts content. And I tell my students– including those I urged on the reaction story assignment today– that whom you include as sources matters. You must seek out a diversity of source along lines of gender, age, race, outlook, income, geography and ability in every story. Because it makes the journalism better.

And the people who write those stories must also represent society. We simply must reach parity in newsrooms, in bylines, in opinion pieces.

That feeling I had of being understood, respected and accepted as a colleague among other feisty, ambitious, powerful women journalists last weekend at the JAWS conference in Asheville, N.C.? You see, I want that feeling all the time.

What if women ruled the news, or at least half of it?

It’s a lot to ask. But I am doing my part. Really, no kidding, I am doing my best.

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Journos: Stop the flaky questions

The same week I gave the “Art of Intverviewing” lecture to the first quarter graduate students here at The Medill School at Northwestern University, a few working journalists conducted some bad interviews.

The attempt by the Australian journalist to tell the Dalai Lama a Dalai Lama joke fell flatter than the pizza with everything. Which brings me back to my lecture on interviewing: Be professional. Be respectful. It’s your reputation and your byline.

I don’t imagine interviewing the Pope with “The pope, a rabbi and a monk walk into a bar…”

Which brings me to Chris Wallace on Fox News asking Michele Bachman if she is a flake.

Let me be clear, I am not a Fox fan or a Michele Bachman fan. But as a journalist doing the interview, your bias should not be so transparent. It was arrogant of Wallace to put her down and make her defensive. My instinct is there is gender bias at play here; I do not recall anyone asking Jesse Ventura during a running for office interview if he was a flake. Or the same for H.Ross Perot. Ventura could have body slammed the interviewer. Perot could have bought him to death.

Which brings me back to the interviewing lecture. Sources beget sources. Show a sincere wish to get it right.

Under the heading, “Don’t fall in love with your subject,” I also advise students to remain objective. The flip side is also true. “Don’t be a hater.”

I have interviewed people who make me uncomfortable, I have interviewed people I disagree with personally, but I still hold to the adage: “It matters how you ask and what you ask.”

I tell students to consider how you phrase the question. Consider the order of the question. Consider the sensivity. Consider the tone and the way you speak. Consider your body language.

Toward the end of the lecture, I ask them to above all respect the source and the information. You need the information. You need the story. You need to be accurate. The reader needs to trust you will get it right every time.

I remind students there is no such thing as a dumb question. I say that because it is worse to have a correction in a publication or broadcast than to risk the subject thinking you are a little dense. Be sure you understand before you walk away. Make sure you understand your notes. Underline difficult concepts for follow-up questions. Believe that a good question yields a good answer.

After seeing these two professional interviewing failures, I will revise the prespcription that there is no such as a dumb question. Yes, there is. You can tell the Dalai Lama a Dalai Lama joke. And you can call a candidate for president a flake.

I am cutting this post short. I have an interview in a half-hour, a profile for a new book I am writing. And I need to follow my own first rule of interviewing: Be prepared.

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The $315mm Woman & More J Opps

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_uo4X1SEdk&NR=1&feature=fvwp

After all the criticism about fluff and pouf and the lightness of being Huffington Post, along comes Tim Armstrong, ceo of AOL and plunks down $315 for Arianna’s 2005 Big Idea. Amen.

“We believe in real journalism and original reporting,” Huffington said in an interview after the announcement she would be in charge of all AOL content.

To all the naysayers who say journalism is as dead as Latin the language, I say, “Veni, Vidi. Vici. ” To all my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern who come in worried about their majors because they won’t get a job at the New York Times, I say double ha. Because they probably won’t. The jobs they get will be at innovative outlets, sites and new projects, non-profits, blogs, citizen journalism cooperatives. Even Huffington says in the interview that she has been hiring veterans “as well as journalists right out of school.”

Two of my Medill colleagues, Rich Gordon and Owen Youngman, just received a $4.2 million grant from the Knight Foundation to launch the Knight News Innovation Laboratory here on campus, pairing Medill students and thought leaders with McCormick School of Engineering students and faculty to develop the next big thing.  

One more time, let’s stop the trash talk of the future of the profession and see this is a phenomenal time for great ideas from men and women looking to innovate, create and put forward content in relevant forms. The world of information is undergoing major transformation and it is disruptive, messy and chaotic at times. And as always the universe rewards a good idea. With some serious cash.

Get thinking. Keep thinking. There’s room for more Big Ideas.

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The Storification Of America

 

Jim Houser with Obama

Robert and Gary Allen. Mrs. Waters of Bruce Randolph School. Kathy Proctor. James Howard. Jim Houser. Brandon Fisher. Not household names. Not celebrities. Not diplomats. All of these ordinary Americans were mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union speech 2011. These citizens shared prominence with Gabby Giffords, the late Robert Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, the Secretary of Defense, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Sputnik.

    The score is 7-7. Unofficial sources to offficial sources. Two presidents, a Congresswoman, a cabinet secretary, two terrorist movements and a Russian space capsule. All had the same number of mentions as four business owners, a school principal, a mom going back to school and a cancer patient.

    What does it mean? So what? What may have become overused in the 2008 presidential race with Joe the Plumber is more widely evident today in all media. Our culture embraces the anecdotal power of the humanistic stories of individuals. And nowhere was it more noticable than in Obama’s speech Tuesday night.

     As I stress to my journalism students at the Medill School at Northwestern University, the rise of unofficial sources needed to flesh out every news and feature story is undeniable. The age of “official source stenography” is dead. The president knows this better than anyone and capitalizes on it. When the president of the United States mentions real people as often as he names diplomats in his annual address, something big has happened.

   I call it the Storification of America.

    

 Thanks to crowdsourcing,  social media, blogging and all forms of participatory journalism, there is a demand for communication to be inclusive. Away from top-down to bottom up, all in. It’s not such a rosy we’re-all-in-this-together appraoch, rather, it is a basic shift in the way that we understand information and how we look at the world. It is in thanks to a media relying on more unofficial sourcing in its reporting to articulate the truths of events, trends and issues, than in taking the word at face value of the official sources with the titles.

      We not only as citizens want to testify, we want to storify. And I did not make up the name.

       Storify.com is a new aggregating tool for social media users and anyone and everyone wanting to connect to current mainstream media and to add reliable sources to their blogs. As I see it, it is an attempt to upgrade the blogosphere from the “my dog is sleeping right now and I am brushing my teeth” to a more professional, polished arena for links to real stories, real posts, real video,real  audio, real photos and commentary vetted and published elsewhere. I hope it punctures a hole in the balloon of hearsay.

     My 2008 book, Everyman News, dealt with the overwhelming prepronderance of unofficial sources in news stories in domestic newspapers, and the growth of that trend. And why. There are many reasons driving the cultural shift to honor the individual and to consider the sanctity of story as peculiar to our time and place. 

      The use of “story” as a brand is nearly ubiquitious. It’s even on my drive to work where a billboard for a local college begs viewers to log on to read “mystory.”    

     Obama ended his speech with a reminder of the depth of reliance we have on story in America. He said:

From the earliest days of our founding, American has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

   We need to understand the growing storification of our lives as we move ahead as journalists, observers and contributors if any of this is going to make sense.

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Surgeon General Loves Reporters

Dr. Regina Benjamin, the 18th U.S. Surgeon General, has gone from being bothered by reporters to embracing the chance to be interviewed.

Speaking to an audience of about 100 in a half-filled auditorium at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago earlier this week, the first female African-American doctor whose job is to care for 300 million Americans admitted she used to hate when journalists would call.

“A reporter would call and say, ‘I want to interview you,’ and I was annoyed because I wanted to see patients,” said the former small-town family practice phyisician in Louisiana in her MacArthur Fellows Science Lecture.

But after one local article sparked a pile of letters from third graders who said they wanted to grow up and be like her, she changed her mind.

“Those articles were not about me,” Benjamin said, nodding to her sorority sisters in the audience from Delta Sigma Theta. “They were about them. I have been answering reporters ever since. You never know who is watching you. And with that comes responsibility.”

Sure, the former MacArthur Fellow spoke about major health issues facing Americans– obesity, poverty, sexually transmitted diseases, breastfeeding, substance abuse, violence and the overall healthcare system–  but her focus on personal responsibility for influencing the wider culture was what stuck. 

“I want to change the way we think about health,” Benjamin said to nods and applause. “We have to move from a system focusing on sick care to a system focused on prevention and wellness.”

Formerly criticized as someone who was not a lean example of perfect health, Benjamin said she considered walking as “taking medication,” and said her own walk in the Grand Canyon proved any and every American can become active.

Admitting “you can’t legislate behavior,” Benjamin was as patient answering audience questions ranging from the absurdly personal  to the contextually thoughtful, as she said she is from reporters.

Speaking about her own grandmother’s move to start an all-black church in Lousiana decades ago, Benjamin advocated for “servant leadership,” and her own model of “leadership from behind.” She explained that this philosophy centers on the notion that “you don’t forget to reach behind and pull someone else up. You also push them out in front of you and let them know you have their back. They will know you will not let them fall. ” 

It was an uplifting prescription for success and one I wish more from every profession would adopt.

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Maria Hinojosa on Humanity and Journalism

It’s all about the humanity
      Not a love fest, but close.
     At the annual Journalism and Women Symposium 2010 camp  in Boerne, Texas this weekend, legendary broadcast journalist and keynote speaker Maria Hinojosa had the more than 100 attendees on her side Saturday night before she stepped to the podium and said hello. And then she took off her left black suede platform pump to show it off and the crowd of veteran, emerging and acclaimed traditional and nontraditional journalists was hooked.    
      “We’re working journalists in America, telling important stories, how can we complain?” The author, anchor and managing editor of NPR’s “Latino USA,” as well as WGBH’s “One on One with Maria Hinonjosa,”added, “The drama of American life is all around us, how do we not tell their stories?”
      In 25 years as a journalist, including eight years at CNN, Hinojosa has been lauded with awards from Emmys to the Ruben Salazar Lifetime Achievement Award for her work telling stories and documentaries that represent “the drama of American life.”
      Born in Mexico City the youngest of four children, Hinojosa told the story of her petite mother convincing the customs officer to let the entire family go through to meet her father, a doctor already working in Chicago. It is that spirit of determination and confidence that drives her, she said.
    “My agenda is to make people feel things and to talk to people who don’t have a chance to be heard,” Hinojosa said. “My responsbility as a journalist is to find that humanity so we can all have hope.”
    Speaking candidly and without a prepared script, some journalists in the audience commented she could have arrived more prepared. But the standing ovation said it all.
    “I know I am seen as a role model,” Hinojosa said. “And I don’t want to walk away.”  
     

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2010 and still not half the media world yet

A few weeks ago the American Society of Newspaper Editors Diversity Report came out with the latest depressing numbers. It’s worse now for women in newsrooms than it was last year. Thirty-seven percent of all newsroom employees were female in 2009, compared to 37.4 percent the year before. OK, not so much.

Except that I wrote about this in 2004 for womensenews  when the percentage of women in newswrooms was 37.23 percent. One step forward, a few steps back. Or maybe we are just running in place.  My lead then was:

 “Ambition defies the boundaries of gender. Opportunity is less democratic.”

I guess that could be my mantra.

There are the same percentage of women supervisors in newsrooms now as  in 2005– 34.8 percent, after a brief trend of minor increases. There are fewer women reporters, or 38.7 percent of  staff, compared to 39.1 percent in 2008. A woeful percentage of women are photographers, artists, videographers, or 26.9 percent, down from 27.1 percent in 2008.

 Recently businessinsider.com posted a story on the 12 most powerful women in new media, boasting that Tina Brown, Arianna Huffington and my old friend, Melinda Hennebeger, were part of a force of digital nature.   

Check out this breathless lede:

Media is not just a crotchety old man’s world. Women are making a huge impact, too.

As the media industry evolves, they are leading powerful companies, launching new ventures and redefining the future of journalism. And their success stories serve as models for those hoping to make a mark in this multi-faceted, risky business.

Isn’t it a little late in the 21st century to think it’s news that media is not just for men? I mean, how old is Brenda Starr? Seems condescending and a little ridiculous to keep saying it is not a man’s world. And a lot old.

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